Hockey still very much part of the TSN brand equation

Three new feeds will ease scheduling conflicts, provide opportunities for additional rights acquisitions, says president Stewart Johnston

But so is football, basketball and other global leagues

Currently overseeing an ambitious expansion that will see his channel grow from two to five national feeds this fall, TSN president Stewart Johnston says the Bell Media brand “absolutely” still deserves to be called “Canada’s sports leader” after losing national NHL rights.

Stewart Johnston

“If you look at the partnerships we have with the top-end sports leagues across the globe, it’s unmatched,” Johnston told Marketing this week. “We are not Canada’s leader of one sport, we are Canada’s sports leader.

“We know we serve our fans through the best sports news show and all the incredible live event properties we have. We 100% believe we are Canada’s sports leader.”

TSN is in the midst of adding three national digital feeds to its existing TSN and TSN2 services, all of which will bear the TSN name. Executives did consider branding each service, said Johnston, but ultimately decided they are all an extension of the master brand.

With a fall launch of the three new services rapidly approaching, Johnston said the channel is trying to accomplish in seven months what would typically take two years. Staff is currently working at “full throttle” to be ready for the launch date, he said.

TSN expects to announce carriage deals with Canadian BDUs in the coming weeks, said Johnston.

The expansion plans have been in development for the past two years, but were made concrete in the past few months. While downplaying suggestions that Rogers Communications’ massive $5.2 billion NHL rights deal late last year created more urgency around those plans, Johnston did say it provided additional clarity and focus.

While there has been much speculation about how TSN will recover from losing national NHL rights to its biggest competitor, Johnston points out that it still retains regional rights for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators (a new 12-year deal was announced in January) and Winnipeg Jets, and is hoping to retain the English rights for Montreal Canadiens games, which expired after this season.

Hockey will remain one of TSN’s programming pillars, with Johnston promising that it will deliver an “incredible swath” of Canada’s favourite sport via the IIHF world championships and world junior championships, as well regional NHL coverage. “We’ve got an awful lot of hockey content, and that certainly will be a driving force on the schedule, as it always is,” he said.

Off The Ice

Football is another content pillar, with TSN showing every CFL game through pre-season games to the Grey Cup, along with a full slate of NFL and college football. Soccer will also be a key component in the coming decade, with TSN acquiring FIFA rights from 2015 through 2022. Johnston promises “Olympic-level” production for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Curling and basketball (which Johnston says is a sport on the rise in Canada, thanks to the emergence of the Toronto Raptors and several highly touted Canadian stars) will also comprise key programming pillars, he said.

Johnston said that the primary reason for adding additional feeds was to avoid programming conflicts between its various properties. He said that TSN is faced with the scenario of live events occurring at the same time at least twice a week.

“We’d love to fit that jigsaw together so it leads from one live event to another, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way,” he said. “We find ourselves, on more weekends than not, with multiple events going on at the same time.”

“In any given week, we have such breadth of content that it could be any three or four different sports that are running into each other.”

Resolving scheduling conflicts was the impetus behind the 2008 launch of TSN2, he said, while the addition of three new feeds will also enable the channel to pursue additional rights.

The new feeds will also enable TSN to significantly expand its coverage of existing properties, said Johnston. Where TSN currently carries between 15-20 games of the IIHF world hockey championships, for example, the new feeds provide an opportunity to include games that would not traditionally have been televised. “When you have an event of that magnitude, it seems obvious we should be showing more, but we haven’t had the capacity,” said Johnston.

Similar scenarios exist for several other major properties, including the IIHF world hockey championships and Grand Slam tennis events.

Johnston said that extra feeds will also enable TSN to serve multiple regions with its flagship sports news show Sportscentre. For example, TSN could now show a 6 p.m. Pacific edition of Sportscentre for the first time, he said.

TSN’s advertising revenue fell 9.4% to $120.7 million in 2013 according to recent CRTC information, but Johnston said that Bell Media remains “extremely aggressive” in its outlook for the channel.

“In any given year on any network programming can come and go,” he said. “We think we have an unmatched base of content to drive all five feeds, and the TSN brand remains as strong as it’s ever been.”

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